Since 2016, Ottawa has been in the middle of an opioid crisis that seriously affects individuals’ and communities’ well-being. Hospital and policing services are on the front line of these challenges and have been unsuccessful in curbing the ongoing reality. We need to turn the page on the war on drugs and move towards a health-led response.
Current responses to addictions are costly and do not address the growing issue of toxic drug use or the direct impacts felt by businesses and residents. The opioid crisis and, more generally, addictions are destructive to communities and their economic wellbeing due to rising crime and violence associated with consumption. The criminal activity and petty crime perpetrated to feed addictions impact us all daily. We collectively pay for the systemic failures of ineffective responses.
The number of opioid overdoses and deaths is driven by a toxic drug supply which has become more lethal. Traditional approaches to addictions and mental health, which often include abstinence, have proven unsuccessful. Newer strategies must be considered to complement existing approaches such as supervised consumption sites. Ongoing investments to support a harm reduction strategy that initially includes providing a safe supply of drugs need to be supported extensively throughout Ottawa if we are going to have any impact on the opioid crisis that is so adversely affecting users and communities.
Despite this grim reality, we have seen success in expanding the Safe Supply program – right here in Ottawa.
Since August 2017, Ottawa Inner City Health has successfully run Canada’s first-ever residential Managed Opioid Program (MOP) in Ottawa, providing controlled amounts of pharmaceutical-grade prescription oral and injectable narcotics (this prescription of narcotics is referred to as providing a “Safe Supply” or safer opioid substitution), housing, and other supports for 25 individuals who have failed in other approaches of care. The residents participating in this pilot have seen positive outcomes in stabilizing their lives. Providing a clean, prescribed drug also means there is no need to commit petty crime to pay for illicit drugs, no need to access from dealers, and the effects of these illicit drugs, sometimes deadly, are significantly reduced.
In addition to this, A Safer Supply Ottawa pilot was announced in 2020. The pilot has surpassed its goal of serving 450 patients and has successfully created new opportunities for residents to receive services in several parts of the city – ensuring that people receive services in the neighbourhoods in which they live.
On May 27, 2020, Ottawa City Council also voted to support my motion asking the mayor to write to the provincial and federal health ministers to support the expansion of Safe Supply in Ottawa. We must go beyond these pilot projects and make modern addictions responses a reality.
Suppose Ottawa wants to see progress in reducing the impact of drug use on communities and better support addictions challenges. In that case, we need to listen to medical professionals and our enforcement bodies. We need elected representatives to understand the value of Safe Supply and speak up on this important approach for our city. The expansion of Safe Supply in Ottawa is a strong example of an evidence-driven and cost-efficient strategy. We need to take this critical step.
The federal government needs to continue to increase the funding of the Safe Supply program, which ought to be available in all parts of our city. Addictions issues are seen as a downtown issue, but the reality is that they affect residents across our city. We have solutions – let’s fund them.